Mass. Educator Named National Teacher of the Year

Dorchester charter school humanities instructor wins top teaching award


SYDNEY CHAFFEE, a 9th grade humanities teacher at a Dorchester charter school, is not just a good teacher, she is, by at least one measure, the best one in the country.

Chaffee was named National Teacher of the Year on Thursday, the first time a Massachusetts educator has won the award in the 65 years that it has been given. The award is made by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Chaffee has taught for 10 years at the Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester’s Codman Square.

sydney chaffee teacher of the year

In early February, she sat down with the Codcast to talk about her passion for teaching and her excitement at being recognized for her efforts and talent.  At the time, she had won the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year competition and been named one of four finalists for the national award.

When asked in our conversation about the formula for great teaching, Chaffee named two chief ingredients:  a passion for what you’re teaching (something she has abundance for the interdisciplinary study of history and English that is her focus) and building strong relationships with students to see them “as whole people.” She said relationship building is crucial to gaining students’ trust, which can then motivate them to take risks and go “outside of their zone.”  I’m “really trying to fire them up,” she said.

Chaffee worked for Citizen Schools for two years after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College.  During that time she got a master’s degree at Lesley University, and then started her career at Codman Academy.

Chaffee, who lives in Dorchester with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, is in New York City today for the award announcement. On Friday, she’ll be back in Boston.

State and city leaders will join with students and staff from Codman Academy and Chaffee’s family and friends for a celebration of the award on Friday morning at the Huntington Theater Company. Codman Academy has had a long partnership with the Huntington, where Codman students go and gain theater experience.